With Hurricane Irma in Florida following on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, victims of these horrific weather phenomena will be relying heavily on the goodwill of their fellow Americans. For many people, that's the way it should be.

Without raising taxes on any bracket of the population, government spending must be finite. Politicians can hardly be blamed for seeking funds for the people of their states; that's part of what they're expected to do. But even with the president promising aid and Congress scrambling to cobble together relief bills, there won't be enough money to fix the destruction wrought by this double-whammy. Just as the government has limits to what it can spend, so do most Americans. And it should come as no surprise that middle- to lower-income Americans are proportionately far more generous than their wealthy counterparts.

One problem with giving to charity is that in many cases, a fraction of the collected cash actually goes for the stated purpose. The rest of the money is earmarked for overhead and other expenses. Sometimes, the CEOs of charities are paid embarrassingly high salaries - and for many potential donors, that goes against the grain of the entity's stated purpose. No one wants to see his hard-earned cash lining the pocket of some fat-cat with a mansion and a yacht.

That's why it's important to do research. When it's time to donate, choose only reputable charities with a record of success and of adhering to their missions. It's also critical to choose charities not just on their high public profiles, but on where, precisely, their money goes. Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) and Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org) can help people make the right decisions.

American Red Cross, for instance, is purportedly on the front line for hurricane relief for both Irma and Harvey. But according to Charity Watch, 89 percent of funds it receives are used for the program; 11 percent goes to overhead. Red Cross also spends $30 to bring in $100. For some folks, that percentage might not sit well. Indeed, it gets a rating of only B-plus. Charity Navigator, which uses a different system, gives Red Cross three out of four stars. Another entity working in the trenches to help hurricane victims is Catholic Relief Services. This entity gets an A-plus rating from Charity Watch, with 92 percent of its funds going to the program, and by spending $10 to make $100. Charity Navigator gives this charity the full four stars.

In recommending charities for the hurricanes, Charity Watch insists that an entity spend at least 75 percent of its budget on program services, and spend no more than $25 to raise $100. The only charity it rates A-plus for Irma donations, in addition to Catholic Relief Services, is Partners in Health. Charities receiving an "A" rating are Direct Relief & Direct Relief Foundation, Episcopal Relief & Development, Mercy Corps, and United States Fund for UNICEF. A-minus charities are Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Oxfam-America, Samaritan's Purse and World Vision. Harvey relief efforts are considerably more numerous, but Charity Watch's A-plus listers - in addition to those already named - are All Hands Volunteers, PetSmart Charities, and United Methodist Committee on Relief. For the other A-listers, they have American Humane (which includes the Society), and Save the Children. A-minus charities not already listed are Operation USA, Project Concern International and Team Rubicon.

Charity Navigator names several more charities with four stars. Among them are MedShare, International Relief Teams, Americares, ShelterBox USA, Heart to Heart International, International Medical Corps, Helping Hand for Relief and Development, Convoy of Hope, GlobalGiving, MAP International, Donors Choose, Water Mission, Houston Food Bank, Feeding America, First Book, Child Foundation, Medical Teams International, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Matthew 25: Ministries, CDC Foundation, World Hope International, Baitulmaal AHED, Brother's Brother Foundation, Islamic Relief USA, Habitat for Horses, United Way of Greater Houston, the Zakat Foundation of America, and a handful more.

We suggest - as do these two watchdog organizations - that you put your money to the best use possible, and give only to the highest-rated charities. None of us can afford to see our money wasted during these trying times.


The Tahlequah Daily News 

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